As Caroline Wilson made fresh claims amid the Rioli racism row on Monday night’s edition of Nine’s Footy Classified, the senior footy journalist brought to light some workshopping Mitchell had done with Hawthorn’s indigenous players in a bid to mend the relationship.
According to the text messages, involved in Mitchell’s work are indigenous Hawks players Chad Wingard, Jarman Impey and Tyler Brockman.
READ MORE: Gould, Gallen clash over NRL bias claims
READ MORE: How Barty successor rose to the top
READ MORE: Legend in tears after emotional farewell
“Thanks for your response, Sam. I am a proud Hawthorn player and I won’t be robbed of that. I’ve never said that I wasn’t,” Rioli wrote to Mitchell.
“Not only is that evident in the life I spent with the Hawks, but that’s also evident in how we’ve never engaged the media on this.
“I have always been proud of that club and my contributions in making the club what it is.
“I’m just so disappointed in the lack of support and the gaslighting that happened at the end of my career.
“I’ve given my life to Hawthorn and have helped build that organisation.
“I agree that there is a need for change. It’s not lost on me nor the nation that the AFL needs to change in a significant way. While I do want that, we need to sort this out in a real way. I need my club to be there in a real way.”
Mitchell was a teammate of Rioli’s in Hawthorn’s four AFL premiership triumphs between 2008 and 2015.
The former prolific midfielder took over from Alastair Clarkson as Hawthorn’s coach at the end of last season, amid the capitulation of a succession plan.
Mitchell replied to Rioli’s text message with a lengthy one of his own.
“Hey, mate. I have been working on some things since your last message. Thank you for your passion,” Mitchell wrote.
“I had a good catch-up with Chad, Jarman and Brocky… and we are putting together some plans starting with education around Australia Day. We are looking at how to best educate our playing group and staff around its history and how it can be a really hurtful day. We have a working party of people coming together to make sure we are an educated and thoughtful playing and coaching group.
“Whenever you feel you would like to be a part of the change we are trying to make (even just to watch or have information about what we are doing) then just reach out.
“… I am very passionate about this and want to get this right from the start.
“… P.S. I hope you and Shan (Rioli’s wife) are great up there (in Darwin). Would love to catch up some time in your home town.”
“It’s a huge job as it is, but it sounds like Sam could be the person that brings this all together and turns it around,” Lloyd said.
According to Wilson, one challenge presented by the saga is Rioli’s unwillingness to work with Hawthorn at this stage.
Cornes scoffs at calls for Hird to make head coaching comeback
“It’s the only club I wouldn’t put my hand up for right now.”
Hawthorn on Tuesday released a statement attributed to chief executive Justin Reeves.
“The past four days has been a time of reflection for our club,” a part of the statement reads.
“A time to continue to listen and learn.
“We have spoken to our current First Nations players who have said they feel culturally safe at the club. They have also said they are confident that our environment is one where they could use their voice if they needed to raise concerns and that those concerns would be acted upon.
“But we cannot assume that has always been the case.”
Rioli played 189 AFL games with the Hawks between 2008 and 2018.
He won the Norm Smith Medal in Hawthorn’s 2015 grand final victory over West Coast and earned three All-Australian blazers.
But such was the genius of Rioli the footballer that so much of his greatness couldn’t be measured: his blinding speed, silky movement, freakish goals, bat-ons and ‘speckies’.
Rioli shook the AFL world when he retired from the game in 2018, at the age of just 28.
A controversial remark from president Jeff Kennett in 2018 aimed at Rioli’s wife was the final straw in a long series of damaging episodes.
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!